A new term has started at University of Hong Kong, with a double intake composed of three-year and four-year degree students. Our campus is crowded, with about 3,000 more students than usual. Fortunately, with the addition of the new Centennial Campus, students are more spread out among some exceptionally good facilities.
I have already given my first lecture on population and sustainable development in Hong Kong. This is one of the courses in the new curriculum that is designed to get students to think about critical issues, so HKU graduates will continue to be fit for the 21st-century workplace.
Interestingly, about 30 per cent of my class is made up of non-JUPAS (Joint University Programmes Admissions System) and non-local students. I was told that there were about 18,000 applications to HKU from outside Hong Kong this year. Few universities have that number of applications in total, particularly when we can add to that many more thousands of non-JUPAS applicants from within Hong Kong.
We hear much about the "mainlandisation" of non-local students in tertiary institutions, and I wondered whether this was the case at HKU. HKU tries to strike a balance by setting a 50:50 breakdown of mainland non-locals to overseas non-locals in our full-time undergraduate intake.
HKU has had applications for undergraduate study from 117 nationalities in recent years, so, as a university, it is clearly developing an excellent international reputation.
These students have to meet our high academic admission standards, as well as come within the limits imposed on us by the University Grants Committee - for overseas applications, we typically admit only one out of every 10.
This is to ensure that the number of places available for local students remains high - this year, the intake of JUPAS students (both Advanced Level Education and Diploma of Secondary Education) to HKU each considerably exceeded our JUPAS intake last year (between 13 per cent and 23 per cent).
Another thing I have noticed is the number of exchange students on our campus. They have the added value of providing an place for outgoing HKU students at leading universities around the world. We sent HKU undergraduates to Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton, Berkeley, University College London and other partners last year, giving them valuable learning and life experiences without additional cost.
The total number of outgoing exchange students last year was 984, while 1,101 chose to join us on the HKU campus from those partner universities.
Actually, my experience is that the non-local students have made the HKU campus a better place. They have not only enriched the experiences of local students, they are also the ones who tend to be more active in class discussions, making everyone's learning more lively and interesting.
Making our education system more international is not only desirable, but critical to the city maintaining its status as an international hub. It provides the necessary ingredients to make Hong Kong competitive in the years to come.
The University of Hong Kong has a critically important role to play in the city's status, by ensuring that it provides for its students a truly international learning experience.
Paul Yip Siu-fai is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong